Thursday, February 22, 2018
Editorials

Getting to the bottom of Deepwater Horizon spill

The Justice Department may have started on the ground floor last week by arresting a former BP engineer in connection with the criminal investigation into the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Prosecutors, after all, typically squeeze the rank and file to get more information on the higher-ups. But the text messages that Kurt Mix is accused of deleting from his iPhone — constituting, federal prosecutors allege, obstruction of justice — paint a clearer picture of how this accident grew into the worst environmental disaster in this nation's history. Prosecutors should aggressively pursue the investigation and bring those responsible to justice.

Federal authorities charged Mix with two counts of obstruction of justice, the first criminal charges stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. As a drilling engineer, Mix was involved with several attempts to stop the leak, including the "top kill," which called for pumping mud and other materials into the broken wellhead in an attempt to cap the flow of oil.

Prosecutors allege that in October 2010, after being told by BP to retain his electronic files related to the spill, Mix deleted more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor. The texts included information collected in real time that indicated the top kill procedure was failing, according to the complaint. One deleted text declared: "Too much flowrate — over 15,000." Before top kill commenced, engineers said the procedure would likely not work if the flow exceeded 13,000 to 15,000 barrels a day. Mix's text not only put the flow rate above that threshold. It was three times higher than the 5,000 daily barrels BP publicly acknowledged was leaking.

Mix's attorney downplayed the charges, saying he had retained the same information on emails obtained by the government. But the issue isn't whether Mix's text is a smoking gun. The question is whether BP lowballed the flow rate all along, and whether those low estimates caused emergency workers to waste time on futile responses that allowed more oil to leak, worsening the damage and prolonging the cleanup.

Who knew what about the flow rate is central to parsing out responsibility for this disaster. The estimates of the leak ranged from zero in the first days — "We do not see a major spill emanating from this incident," the Coast Guard on-scene commander declared — to later estimates of 1,000, 5,000 and 12,000 barrels a day. The actual flow was far greater — about 60,000 barrels a day — which helps explain why BP halted the top kill after three failed attempts. But by then, the company had delayed other containment efforts that could have captured many thousands of barrels of oil. "In retrospect," investigators for the National Spill Commission appointed by President Barack Obama found, "if BP had devoted a fraction of the resources it expended on the top kill to obtaining a more accurate early estimate of the flow rate, it might have better focused its efforts on the containment strategies that were more likely to succeed."

The Justice Department needs to aggressively pursue the case. Nailing down who knew what and when could factor into whether BP pays a premium for gross negligence on its per-barrel Clean Water Act fines. It also would shed light on the risks of continuing to rely heavily on the oil companies to police themselves.

Comments
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18